Well researched, the book goes through thousands of news reports and media accounts to come up with a mirror to the reporting that happened of the 2002 riots. It not only gives the sequence of events on how the violence broke out but also how the “secular” media reacted and reported with a clear agenda to ambush Sangh Parivar and the Hindus.
Gujarat Riots: The True Story by MD Deshpande; Partridge India Publishers;Pp 397; Price Rs 599/-, US $15.29 (Paperback); Rs 221/-, US $3.27 (E-book)
The 2002 Gujarat riots were widely reported by Indian and International media enthusiastically. The riots and the role of the then government were debated, dissected and analysed in every newsroom. A quick search in Google throws up six million hits on the Gujarat riots.
However, questions on the reportage of the riots have been raised time and again. Was it a fair report of what happened at the time or agenda driven?
The book – Gujarat Riots: The True Story attempts to answer this question. Gujarat Riots: The True Story by MD Deshpande, throws light on the attacks suffered by both communities. The loss incurred by the minority community, which was widely reported, found centre-stage while the loss felt by the Hindus remained untouched. Deshpande cites news reports only to show how many Hindus were killed and thousands rendered homeless, and forced to live in relief camps. These suppressed chapters of 2002 violence are brought out by the author brilliantly.
The book also visits the court judgements where the men involved in killings and violence were convicted. It goes on to summarise the court records by quoting “the number of convictions as 443 in 2002 case, and a comparison with the convictions during riots of 1969, 1985,1990-91-92 which were far more serious than 2002 riots, hardly 3 to 4 convictions took place under the previous Congress governments. In 1984 Sikh riots, where 3,000 Sikhs were killed, no action was taken against the rioters and only about 30 people were convicted till April 2013”.
Another interesting fact revealed in the book is that of the ‘Tehelka sting’. Author clearly questions and dilutes the arguments of this so- called sting operation by stating few facts using the various news reports and government records, which cannot be doubted. To cite one case, the Tehelka sting claimed that the CM Modi visited the site of Naroda Patiya in the evening of 28 February 2002 and patted the backs of rioters, but the author has cited official records showing that he was in fact addressing a Press Conference at the Circuit House in Ahmadabad that evening and did not visit the place at all. These fake stings raised question on the integrity, honesty and journalistic ethics of former Tehelka chief Tarun Tejpal and former Tehelka reporter and now AAP leader Ashish Khetan.
Deshpande also quotes the SIT report which gave a clean chit to Narendra Modi. The chapter on the SIT’s findings is very intriguing. It reveals facts not well known to the general public about the SIT’s findings and observations, largely kept hidden by the media. For instance, the complaint of Zakia Jafri, examined by the SIT, names Accused No. 24 Babubhai Rajput as an accused among the 63 people charged. The SIT found after investigation cited in its report that accused is not traceable at the given address and it has come to light that no such person was ever in existence at the relevant point of time. Also, an Accused No. 45 Rahul Sharma and Accused No. 63 Satish Verma have also been listed as witnesses for the complainant as well as accused persons. On being asked by the SIT, Zakia Nasim said that they are in fact witnesses and inadvertently listed as accused. These facts made it absolutely clear that the complaint is not a genuine one. Complainant herself was unaware of the matter which was filed. These facts were never reported or published by any news agency which is suspicious.
As stated in the prologue, the book takes a look at the events of the 2002 riots and tries to question whether the State government was culpable or did it handle the riots effectively. Was the violence after Godhra one-sided or was it another riot in which both the community suffered?
The horrific mass murder of many innocent karsevaks has been detailed with the help media reports, bolstered with the witness accounts of the survivors. Gujarat’s history of communal violence since the six century AD is also mapped out by Deshpande. The book shows how the reports – many agenda driven by various media houses and journalists – formed the fodder for politicians to use as a weapon to persecute political opponents. Deshpande argues that the reportage was used to highlight only a part of the riots – thus ignoring the plight of not just the barbaric murder of 59 innocent karsevaks burnt alive but also those who were caught in the riots along with the minority community – the Hindus.
Media tried to find every angle to prove that karsevaks were at fault in provoking a section, and so much so that they torched the bogies of Sabarmati Express and burnt them alive without even considering their age or gender. These so-called secular media stands, and politicians left no stone unturned in defaming and insulting the majority population and the government.
Facts backed with evidence are presented in the book. The book contains reports and instances that were left untouched by the pseudo-secular media, like the appeal of Sangh Parivar to maintain peace, and also the unbiased efforts made by the State government in controlling violence. Preventive arrests, curfew, extra force deployment has been presented, most of which was ignored by the news reports of the time.
Deshpande is scathing about the news reports of the riots, claiming that Gujarat violence was the result of misreporting and rumours spread by the newspapers and channels that resulted in provoking people and making the situation worse. He backs it with excerpts of the news reports and editorials by many eminent journalists like Sidhartha Vardarajan, Vir Sanghwi and many more that appeared at the time to prove his point.
Well researched, the book goes through thousands of news reports and media accounts to come up with a mirror to the reporting that happened of the 2002 riots. It not only gives the sequence of events on how the violence broke out but also how the “secular” media reacted and reported with a clear agenda to ambush Sangh Parivar and the majority. This book provides comprehensively documented reports with references and web links to establish this fact. The use of a simple narrative only adds to the value of the book, which keeps the reader curious to read till the last page in hope of getting some more shocking evidences and revelations.
( The reviewer is a researcher who writes on governance and development issues)